Livestock farmers use different methods to keep animals warm in the winter

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COLUMBIA – Humans aren’t the only ones that need to worry about the dropping temperatures.

Livestock farmers have to change their processes to make sure animals stay healthy during the harsh season.

“Feed and water, and if they have warm water and feed, they’ll naturally stay warm and shelter, and they do need shelter,” John Coats said.

Coats owns Coats High Ridge Farm, where he cares for horses and alpacas.

Each animal has different needs.

“Alpacas are easier then horses, they’re a mountain animal, they grow up in South America in the mountains, and when we’re having summer time they’re having winter and just as bad a winter as we do,” Coats said.

Alpacas' heavier coats helps them stay warmer a little easier.

Horses are a little more challenging. When it gets icy, they have to move the horses. 

“Horses have a hard time walking on ice, so when it’s real icy we keep the horses up, we don’t let them out. Like it is now, the ground soft underneath their weight will tend to break through it, but if it stays cold for long time and gets any kind of moisture on it then it’ll freeze and be real slick,” Coats said.

Alternatives to being outside include indoor areas, like an indoor riding arena.

“So we keep them up and then we have an indoor arena that we’ll exercise horses in. We’ll turn them out when we’re cleaning the stalls and exercise them in there.”

The feeding process also has to be adjusted. The horses go from being fed more oats to more corn.

“We feed a little bit different formula in the winter time. It’s a little bit higher in carbohydrates,” Coats said, “More corn and less oats, and we also have some other proteins and vitamins mixed into it. But more corn, less oats, and it tends to be a warmer feed for the animals.”

Buying food has different costs per season.

“The feed cost goes down a little in the winter time because corn tends to be a little cheaper than oats as far as by weight," Coats said.

The process of giving the animals water also involves more physical work for farmers.

“In the wintertime you have to check all the waters. I end up running the water hose when it’s not freezing in the wintertime to the stalls here in the stall barn. But, when it’s freezing and your hose is freezing, you end up carrying water buckets," Coats said. 

Even the water temperature is a key factor to the animals' health.

“If I have ice in the buckets I’ll put warm water in them to get that ice melted down, so that the buckets don’t fill with ice," Coats said. 

Some animals need extra special treatment. For example, a horse from Arizona isn’t used to the winter, so Coats makes the horse wear a blanket to stay warm.

Paula Fleming boards a horse at Coats' facility. Fleming has been riding horses for over 30 years.

“Well I had horses the whole time I was growing up and as a young adult. And it had actually been about 20 years since I had a horse, and so when I found out about John’s facility and how close it was to my home and what a great opportunity it was, I decided it was time to get a horse and get back into the hobby that I really loved,” Fleming said.

During the season, especially in the winter, Fleming checks on her horse once a day to make sure he is doing okay.

Coats' main goal is to keep the animals happy and healthy.

“We feed them, we probably feed them too much.”